Professor Tracey Covassin is the second scholar at Michigan State University to ever be named the Gwendolyn Norrell Professor in Youth Sport. The position was previously held by Professor Emeritus Daniel Gould, who retired in 2022.
Covassin is the director of MSU’s Master of Science in Athletic Training program and is also a certified and licensed athletic trainer in the state of Michigan. In 2022, she was elected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Kinesiology.
The professorship honors Gwendolyn Norrell, who was a nationally recognized proponent for student-athlete welfare, and a former MSU faculty member. The professorship, which includes the annual Gwen Norrell Lecture on Youth Sport and Student Athlete Wellbeing, was established in 2018 as part of the Empower Extraordinary campaign at MSU.
Covassin’s goal with her research is to improve well-being and standard of care for youth and collegiate student-athletes who incur and injury or suffer from mental health issues. Of her more than 150 publications, the majority of her work has focused on youth athletes and NCAA student-athlete well-being.
The professorship, effective in December 2022 and continuing through June 2025, comes with funding for research to further the field. Covassin plans to enhance three study areas in collaboration with MSU’s Intercollegiate Athletic Department.
The first is to bolster an ongoing study examining variables that affect concussion recovery. The study aims to identify what primary risk factors (such as sex, age, race) are associated with or predict protracted, or longer than average, recovery. Identifying the factors will lead to earlier and better targeted interventions for supporting concussed student athletes.
The professorship will also fund two separate studies on athlete well-being. The first aims to determine sensitive, anxiousness and sleep patterns in collegiate student-athletes during various times of the year. The study aims to identify correlations between sleep and mental health, especially in relation to sensory processing sensitivity and how it can impact academic and athletic performance. Finally, the professorship funding will support resources for MSU athletes who take questionnaires pertaining to seasonal affective disorder, suicide ideation and depression.
Covassin will continue long-standing partnerships at MSU throughout the professorship, such as with research collaborations across MSU to improve the well-being of student-athletes and coordinating with MSU Health Team and MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services to focus on physical and mental health supports. The annual Gwendolyn Norrell Endowed Lecture on Youth Sport and Student-Athlete Well-Being will also continue. In 2023, it will feature Emily Clark, a licensed clinical psychologist and the associate director of Mental Health Services for the Colorado Springs Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. Save the date for Friday, Oct. 6 for the lecture.
Covassin is also using the professorship opportunity to create something new: A committee, composed mainly of women to honor the professorship’s namesake, to discuss how MSU can further promote the health and well-being of student athletes.
“Gwendolyn Norrell left an enormous and multifaceted legacy on the MSU campus. Her autobiography, as recorded for the Sesquicentennial Oral History Project, is a fascinating account of the life of a true pioneer for social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Panteleimon Ekkekakis, chair of the Department of Kinesiology. “Tracey Covassin continues her legacy by being a strong and vocal advocate for the well-being of all of our students, including our student-athletes. I feel that, in many ways, Dr. Covassin is following in the footsteps of Dr. Norrell.”